Religion and Morality, again.

I keep running into people telling me that religion provides objective morality, which makes NO sense. Much of this comes directly from what I said to a fellow blogger on this site, regarding morality and its ties to religion:

Christian morality is SUBJECTIVE morality, because it is one of many competing schools of thought (other religions) that people believe for subjective reasons, not objective ones. If there were objective reasons to believe in Christianity or any other religion, meaning if there were proof or solid evidence, then there wouldn’t be any competing schools of thought. So who decides what morality is? People ultimately do, through trial and error – and because evolutionary processes instilled in us give us an objective morality, which some people do seem to lack (or have a warped one), but you cannot account for every crazy person in the world, some people just aren’t right. In societies with low crime rates and high happiness – we see moral values that people ultimately end up agreeing upon once they’ve gone through enough trial and error – these places have moral values you see across all cultures because human beings are capable of figuring these things out, otherwise we wouldn’t see them at all. We know we have an objective morality because history and current studies show us that there are trends among successful, happy peoples and their moral values – and even among places with different religious beliefs, the moral principles are often agreed upon and show positive trends. Morality benefits society in a positive way. It makes no sense to be immoral, because people ultimately suffer from it.

The bible tells you that people are imperfect, sinners, basically unworthy of God’s love, but he loves you anyways – that anyone can be saved so long as they truly want to be, no matter what their past, so long as they love Jesus and God. So how does this really make anyone morally accountable for their actions? People would not ultimately believe in a religion in which there was no way for them to get into heaven if they’d done bad things before, it’s the very reason why so many people who get thrown in jail try to turn their lives around with religion – because it provides a big loophole in which all of their moral failings no longer exist, because Jesus loves all sinners, as long as they repent. The story does in fact say he died for our sins, does it not? Christianity claims moral ground, but then provides this excellent way for anyone to act immorally and still get away with it. So what incentive is there not to act immorally in the end, really? There are punishments described in the bible for sins, but the loophole persists through all of them. Supposedly, so long as you truly repent then you can still go to heaven.

The bible also fails to fully condemn rape – something people have no problem agreeing on in terms of it being morally wrong. If you’d like to dispute this, don’t bring tired Christian apologetics here – they are easily seen through and I’ve seen the same tired argument on this subject too many times, and it’s just wrong. The bible supposedly punishes a man who rapes a married woman by sentencing him to death – but if you put this in context, they’re clearly only protecting the interests of the married man, who at the time the bible was written would view his wife as property. The wife would also be put to death if she did not call out for help or for the man to stop (so unconscious women apparently don’t get to live). And then, if an UNMARRIED woman is raped, the bible says the man must marry her – as if this is some sort of punishment for the rapist because he has to take care of the woman. If anything, it’s further punishment for the woman, because no woman in her right mind would want to spend the rest of her life with someone who raped her. If this were a just god who was really concerned about the woman’s interest – he wouldn’t punish her, and the sentence for the man who rapes a married woman is death, so why not if he rapes an unmarried woman? Oh, right, because men (the same group of people who wrote the books of the bible and decided what did and didn’t go in the bible) viewed women as less than people, and didn’t fully care about justice for them, and once they were no longer virgins men thought it was okay to view them as trash – even if their virginity was taken by way of rape. Okay, I may have gotten off on a little tangent here, but my point was to say that if the bible was a good moral authority – it wouldn’t have such clear moral failings.

This objective wrong and right has only been, if anything, more muddied by the concept of a God. Religion clearly preaches some things – like that thou shalt not kill, and then goes on to contradict itself in it’s own writings by saying which sins are punishable by death. I also mentioned the great moral loophole religion provides already. And since religion has, in fact, directly influenced people to do awful things, it should prove that it’s not a clear moral code from any perfect being. A clear moral code would dictate a clear message, wouldn’t you think? But people get around that by saying that God created us as sinners, so we have no choice – and the non-logical circle argument about religion and morality starts all over again, because I keep running into these old arguments that people don’t realize aren’t fool-proof, not at all. At least not if you dare to think a way other than the way you have been, which is obviously not an easy choice for the minds of the indoctrinated.

Side note: I know I mention Christianity specifically a lot, but it’s only because as a former Christian I can relate to it, I understand it more clearly. I still feel equally about all other religions, however.

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About thatcatkatie
I came to this site to discuss my beliefs, and yours too, and hopefully learn some things from my fellow human beings.

12 Responses to Religion and Morality, again.

  1. Hi there! Glad my comment inspired you to post! At least I think it was my comment.

    OK, I think I see the difficulty we’re having, we’re defining ‘objective morality’ in a different way to each other. So the way that I define it is – morality that is absolute, independent of a person’s judgement of it. So if Nazi Germany had conquered the whole world and everyone thought like a Nazi – it would still be ethically wrong to kill Jews in the Holocaust. My position is, there is right and wrong, independent of what a person thinks about it. Killing was wrong in communist Russia, it was wrong in the inquisition, and it is wrong now. The moral did not just arise in the minds through social pressures on evolution – it is independent of minds – the Holocaust was wrong. In other words, it is objectively wrong, without influence from people’s judgements. Your posts seem to be a mixture in terms of your position on this, what do you think?

    As to a Christian morality – well I don’t think those who truly repent are let off scot free. Their punishment is taken through the Cross. However they still have to live knowing what they’ve done. Their burden of guilt may be lifted, but they still have to pay the consequences of this world, such as being in jail, and social stigma. Also, to be a genuine follower of Jesus they will have given their whole life to Him, and therefore good things should result if they are genuine.

    As to rape – well clearly my position is that is always wrong, probably one of the most grevious harms that can be done to a person. I would argue that the Old Testament law suggests that there is something wrong with rape. The OT law was set a long time ago, and was morally superior to all the cultures around it, to a Western view. However I don’t think the detail was meant to be the best law for all people at all time (though the 10 commandments were). In those days there were not courts, evidence, police etc – it would always be an inferior system to what we have today. But I would argue that it is Christian principles that led to the better system of justice we now enjoy being built.

    I don’t think I know any Christian who would say “God created us as sinners, so we have no choice”. In fact it is Christians who usually defend the position of free will these days – others are usually genetic or environmental determinists. In a Christian worldview it is always our choice whether or not we sin. And through Jesus we can be free of sin. My own personal experience is that as I’ve deepened in my relationship with God, my sin has reduced (albeit sometimes a slow process, and I’m certainly not perfect!!). So for example, I gossip less than I used to, I objectify men less than I used to, I’m more patient, more concerned about others… still plenty of work to do. I’m in no way saying I’m better than you or anyone else. I’m just saying that my own experience and from my starting point, I have found that knowing Jesus has led to better moral behaviour. I actually feel love for people more intensely than I ever used to. I feel love for people who disagree with me (!), different to me, and some people who used to really upset or anger me. It’s a wonderful way to be, and the more I love the more I notice the parts of me that aren’t loving, and try to do something about it! Which is usually, to pray. It’s a life with much more meaning and purpose than I ever used to have.

    With much respect to you!

    • thatcatkatie says:

      I’m responding to all three of your comments in this one post:
      If we couldn’t rationally identify morals, then how did people figure them out before the judeo-Christian religions were around? That argument makes no sense. Societies have functioned with common moral principles, no matter what their beliefs, from the beginning of time. As human knowledge and intelligence evolves, so do our moral values – it isn’t hard to at least identify this as a trend. So what makes you think you can’t logically come to objective morals – what is wrong or right – through reason, trial and error, and by examining causes and effects? People attach a god to it so that the morals add up to something on some sort of holy score board – the ones who listen go to heaven, the ones who don’t go to hell. That’s the only reason to attach a god to morality – is to justify a specific view of the afterlife that this god provides for you. Without a god, the morals still exist – examine any secular society, as was mentioned in an earlier post (I can’t remember who made it right now and it’s hard to check since I’m on my phone).
      Subjective morality means the same to me, aside from that I still can’t see a valid reason to attach a god to it, that seems to be just attaching an authority figure to a set of principles so that people are less likely to question. Yes, society has hosted it’s fair share of moral failings – but that’s what I meant about the trial and error thing, to evolve as a species we must make mistakes and learn from them. When we learn, we gain a better understanding of morality. The fact that everyone agrees wholly that the holocaust was awful should be evidence that people are capable of objective morality, we know what the standard should be, but we also fail to meet it – but that doesn’t me we don’t know some place within that it isn’t truly right, but some people don’t care.

    • thatcatkatie says:

      Also, morality isn’t a concept that can exist beyond us. It exists only because intelligent beings were able to conceive it and debate it.

  2. Also referring to the philosophical point… atheist philosophers have acknowledged that without God there cannot be objective morality, e.g.:

    “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality. Kai Nielsen, ‘why should I be moral’, in american philosophical quarterly 21 (1984): 90

    And also:
    “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” Richard taylor, ethics, faith and reason

    I think the ten commandments are pretty clear, too! 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    I’m not the only one on a tear… thatcatkatie is rocking it over at her place. Stop by and say hello…

  4. Well philosophers have all day to sit around and think and debate on these points, and yet still many would say morality can’t be reasoned. To answer your questions…

    1) If we couldn’t rationally identify morals, then how did people figure them out before the judeo-Christian religions were around? – Well often they didn’t. For example, in the UK the pagan religions took part in human sacrifice, bestiality, etc, before Christianity arrived. Same in Old Testament times with the communites around the Israelites. Even in modern times, in the Waodani tribes murder was seen as normal, for example. But the point of my argument is, even though those cultures didn’t think those things were wrong, they were still objectively wrong, we would agree with that. So the morality is external to the culture and to the judgement of the human beings involveed. How can this be explained, if there is no God?

    2) So what makes you think you can’t logically come to objective morals – what is wrong or right – through reason, trial and error, and by examining causes and effects?
    We may be able to come to a common understanding of what is moral. Again it’s slightly missing the point. If we sat down and had a pow wow and decided that it was OK to kill disabled people, then it would STILL BE wrong even though we had made that decision. The morality is independent of our reasoning, don’t you agree?

    • thatcatkatie says:

      Okay, but look to ancient Mesopotamia and Hammurabi law code. Many cultures were able to figure out objective morality – and like I said before, any religious moral guide cannot be objective, it is automatically subjective – especially since there aren’t any good objective reasons to believe one religion over any other. Also, the ones in the past who have demonstrated poor morality often did it with the help of whatever God they believed in, and I did refer to the ability of religion to muddy the moral waters. It is explained because many groups who do not believe in your God or anything similar to it come to this objective morality, if they did not, there would be no argument – but they do.This can be explained, not through God, but through evolutionary processes – the species has a better chance at not only survival, but happiness, in a moral society – we have learned this, history demonstrates it. It’s just that we’re prone to make mistakes because we aren’t objective beings, we’re subjective – we have free will.
      We could sit down and agree between ourselves about such a thing, but that wouldn’t make it objectively moral – the rest of the world would be able to see that, if not immediately, over time. We can make decisions without considering whether or not the are truly moral, even if they somehow benefit someone – this action especially (killing the disabled) would still cause harm to this disabled(emotionally and physically), and it’s easy to see that, and so therefore it’s easy to see that it’s immoral. It would also have an adverse affect among those who love and care for someone who may be disabled. That’s not hard to figure out that that act is not an objectively moral one – meaning that we could come to this reasoning through logic, logic that shows us that someone would suffer as an effect. Just because some people might agree with it, or at least wouldn’t do anything to stop it, would not make it moral. We’ve already agreed that people can act immorally, thinking they are acting morally, but we eventually catch on (which is what I meant by trial and error) that whatever the situation is, is not good. We as humans have demonstrated the ability to know that just because one person, or a group of people, has gone wrong and think they are right does not actually make them right – like with Nazi germany, but the great antagonizer has the helm on that topic, and addressed it well. Just because humans are subjective creatures does not mean we’re incapable of grasping objective concepts, it just means we have the ability to choose, it means we have the ability to make mistakes, but it doesn’t mean we cannot know objective morality. Also, other objective things – like the scientific method for example, require no authority figure to validate them. They are objective because they just are, but that doesn’t mean that because humans are subjective that we need an authority to enforce what is objective, it just means that because of free will (whether there was an authority figure or not) we can choose to ignore what is moral. Religious people demonstrate this all the time – that alone should be enough to prove that a God in unnecessary. Since people disobey religious moral teachings all of the time, is God really adding anything to the equation? Is the idea that He exists (at least, to people who believe) really preventing people from sinning anyways? No, it’s not.

  5. But just to clarify, the argument I’m making is NOT that “religion provides objective morality” although I would say that Christianity often has improved the morals of the people it comes to.

    The point is whether or not there is an objective morality independent of human beings’ judgement, and if there is, then where does it come from?

    🙂

    • thatcatkatie says:

      A moral person will come to their morality on their own, regardless of their beliefs. Does religion persuade people to act charitable occasionally when otherwise they would not? Yes, but this is not a result of someone wanting to fulfill a moral desire, usually these things (who come from those who normally would not make an effort to act morally) are a result of wanting to please God or their congregation, not an intrinsic force that wants to do good. Whereas someone who would be moral anyways, be they Christian, atheist, Muslim, whatever – would do good because of their understanding of objective morality, because of a desire to do good, regardless of what they believe. It works the same way for a bad person, who regardless of what they believe, has the free will to act as they please.

  6. Sorry, I don’t know if it’s my explanation that’s the problem, but you’re still not responding to the point I’m making.

  7. thatcatkatie says:

    Your point is that how do we understand this objective morality if there is not a God, isn’t it? But humans understand objective things all of the time, objectivity is just what is true or not regardless of our feelings about it – when feelings enter into the equation and change our actions, that’s where all the subjective morality comes from. All I’ve been doing is explaining how humans are capable of understanding it, why we are, even though some people go wrong.

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